Methods > Ideate > Participatory Design/Co-design Worksession

Participatory Design/Co-design Worksession

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  • Engage real world users in design activities in order to uncover new ideas, priorities, and flows
  • Challenge our assumptions about feature development and the value proposition of our products


  • Generate new ideas based on direct input from our target audience
  • More certainty that our products meet the needs of their target audience.


1 day


2 facilitators (facilitators + notetaker)


Tip: it’s best to get an expert on board to help you run these methods.


Design materials (e.g., worksheet printouts, cards with images and words, everyday materials for creating prototypes, Sharpies, postits) Recording equipment (notetaker, or video/audio) A private, brightly-lit room with ample workspace in a neutral location Drinks, snacks and other comfort-setting details

Detailed steps

Define your topic for investigation (questions or assumptions that you want to answer).

Recruit your participants. Groups should be between 3-16 people depending on your need. Focus on your existing users or those groups that can best help you to get to answers for your questions. See our recruiting guide for more information.

Build a guide for the session and prepare some materials that will prompt discussion amongst participants. Plan with timing in mind. A participatory design session is typically 60-90 minutes. Prep time is roughly 2 hours for each 15 minute exercise conducted. Prep time includes designing goals for the session, distilling questions to probe, and selecting activities that best draw out user needs and priorities. Try to involve your whole team so that everyone gets face time with the users. Here are some participatory design activities (you can use several):

  • Card sort : Exercise where users organize pre-made cards with words and/or images to indicate priority and preference.
  • Mock-ups : Simple models created by/with users to express an idea. Uses everyday materials or paper to dimensionalize.
  • Storyboarding: Collages using visual and verbal triggers that are created and ordered by users to illustrate sequences.

A session should consist of: (1) Breaking the ice, (2) Talking about the issues for investigation, (3) Gathering specific design ideas, and (4) Wrapping up.

Allow roughly 4 hours of synthesis time for each 60 minute session, including time for light documentation.